In preparation for this trip I read loads of cycle touring blogs. Something that often seemed to be missing was a bit more information about the background of the author. I especially wanted to know more about the people who were doing big, open-ended or unusual tours. Why did they decide to quit their job, sell their house or abandon their commitments?
So here’s my attempt to explain how I came to start this trip:
It starts with a stupid choice of degree subject – namely Scriptwriting for Film and Television. I was eighteen and an idiot. I thought I wanted to be a writer, but after two years at University I’d fully realised that not only was I awful at writing scripts, I also didn’t enjoy it. I stuck out the course and got the predictably bad result, but at least I had a degree, right?
Well yes, but I also had no direction and so I lurched from job to job for a while. I tried everything from stand-up comedy booking agent to factory assembly work and selling tickets on a promenade land train, but I couldn’t see myself sticking at any of them so took a course in teaching English and then went on a cycle tour from Norway to Prague. It was only seven weeks of riding (followed by two weeks of drinking) but I loved the daily rhythm and routine and the opportunity to see the ‘places in between’ and meeting people from different countries. I considered other cycle trips I might like to make in the future…
But then a teaching job came up in Japan and so I went out there for the best part of a year and met my (Canadian) wife-to-be. We moved back to Toronto together where I worked in a bike shop. I loved the work, but couldn’t settle so we came back to the UK where we spent the next seven years – we bought a house together and settled down. I continued working in bike shops but I could see that the internet was slowly killing them; I needed to get out. It took 5 years but I eventually got a ‘proper’ job (with a desk and a phone and meetings) in cycling advocacy/training. My intention was that this would be a transition to a serious career with the security (and money!) that goes with it, but it never really worked out that way. My contract was extended, but it dawned on me that I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk for the rest of my career – I started saving money and thinking about alternatives.
Meanwhile my wife’s career was going well and we enjoyed an easy and comfortable life together. But it was becoming increasingly obvious that things weren’t working out between us. I decided I didn’t want kids and I was frustrated by my inability to develop my career. Eventually things came to a head and we decided to separate. It was fully amicable; probably the best divorce anyone could wish for and we are still friends.
Our house sold quickly, and I was suddenly untethered. I gave myself a year to think about what to do next; to apply for jobs and see if anything came up. In the back of my mind I thought a cycle tour around Europe could be a happy but unlikely back-up plan if nothing came up.
Of course, nothing did come up. Well, that’s not quite true – I had options and job offers but as time went on, what started as the back-up plan became my main obsession. The more I discussed it with friends, family and colleagues the more I realised that this was an opportunity that might never come up again. I was 33 and found myself with no responsibilities or commitments just as my peers were all having kids and knuckling down to career progression and household renovations. It was beginning to look like a real possibility that the UK might leave the EU and although I imagined travel would be largely unaffected, I thought it might suddenly get harder to work in Spain or Germany or anywhere else in mainland Europe, so I gradually made the decision to go. It wasn’t an instant choice; it was more that other options ruled themselves out and this is all that I was left with.
Some people claim to be envious of my situation, and I assume a good many people quietly deride it. It’s entirely my own doing and I’m equal parts resigned to it and excited by it. A bit less than half of me wishes I had a decent career and a predictable future but mostly I’m happy with where I am, and glad I’m able to take a chance, knowing that if it all goes tits-up, I’ve still got family and friends to come back to.